Behaviour Support for Schools
Beacon School Support
Behaviour Support for Schools


March 2016: Don’t make this basic mistake if you want to sound assertive.

Many teachers make one simple mistake that instantly reduces how assertive they sound: they use the word ‘please’. In this month’s guide, we explain why you should avoid using ‘please’ and switch to a much more powerful (but still polite) way of giving directions.

Our instant fix for assertiveness is to stop saying please and start saying thank you. So – wherever you would have said ‘please’ in the past, just substitute it with ‘thank you’. Here’s why it works:

'Please' is a request

Using ‘please’ indicates to a student that you are giving them the power to agree or refuse to your request. For instance:

“Can you put the ball away, please?” is a question, to which the student can reply yes or no.

“Put the ball away, thank you,” is an instruction that requires action from the student. It is assertive, but still models politeness.

'Please' lacks authority

When you say ‘please’, you are telling the other person that you are unsure of the outcome of your request. Your words lack certainty.

By using ‘thank you’, we can leverage a neat psychological trick.

‘Thank you’ tells the student that you are so confident that they will follow your instructions that you are thanking them for carrying them out before they have even acted. This adds weight and authority to your words.

'Please' affects your pitch

We are programmed from a young age to listen and respond to how words are spoken. When a speaker lilts their voice upwards towards the end of a sentence, it emphasises that they are asking a question or making a request (which sounds unassertive).

When you say the word ‘please’, your pitch will naturally rise to create this effect.

Try saying, “Can you put the ball away, please?” You will naturally use a higher pitch towards the end of your sentence.

Now try saying, “Put the ball away, thank you.” Saying thank you will make your voice drop at the end of the sentence, like a thumping great full stop. You will instantly sound more assertive.

Staff meeting activity

This activity will take approximately 10 minutes and will help your staff develop their ability to selectively use language to sound more assertive.


You will need the following materials:

  • Flipchart paper or a whiteboard.
  • Pens.
  • Copies of page 1 of the newsletter (download the PDF version of the newsletter below). At least one between two members of staff.
  • Access to the internet / the facility to show this month's Beacon video (optional)

The activity

  • Start by sharing page 1 of this month’s newsletter or showing the accompanying video on our website.
  • Ask your staff to discuss what messages using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ promote in terms of assertiveness.
  • Arrange your staff into groups of 3 or 4 and give each group pens and paper.
  • In their groups, ask them to identify why the following phrases lack assertiveness, and to write alternatives that sound stronger and more authoritative: will you put your book away?; why are you still working when I've asked you to stop?; can you stop tapping your pencil on the table?; it would be great if you stopped talking in the line.
  • Give staff 5 minutes, working in their groups, to sort the cards under the headings: ‘Helps organisation’, ‘Helps attention and focus’, and ‘Helps both’.
  • After a few minutes, bring your staff back together and ask them to share their ideas.

Now put up copies of the first page of the newsletter on display in the staffroom, so staff members can refer to them at a later date.


Don't print this page! We've produced a much more attractive version for printing and sharing. Use the links below to download a copy of the newsletter in PDF format, and use this for print and distribute the information to your staff.

PDF version of newsletter (colour)

PDF version of newsletter (black and white)


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